On the third anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, a pastor dares to ask the question most Christians would rather avoid: Should we fire God?
Jim Pace, co-pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship in Blacksburg, Va., knows it is hard to reconcile a loving, all-powerful God and the amount of suffering in the world. But he maintains that people need to try to understand where God is coming from.
Pace is not speaking from the perspective of an outsider. He witnessed firsthand the devastation that the April 16, 2007, school shooting had on the Blacksburg community. His house is located just miles from the campus and his church is filled with students from the university.
For him, the family members of the victims and the residents of the university town, April 16 will always be the day that student gunman Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on the Virginia Tech campus killing 32 people before taking his own life.
The massacre was the deadliest peacetime shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.
To those who ask why God did not stop the deadly event, the pastor responds that God could have stopped it and at the same time could not have.
"God had a choice when he created us," Pace said in an interview with The Christian Post. "He could restrain every poor decision or wrong we do, but in doing so we become less real and human."
Thus, God made the decision to give humans free will so that we can have real, meaningful interaction with the world around us and with God. This free will also gave us the ability to harm one another.
In his new book Should We Fire God? Finding Hope in God When We Don't Understand, Pace points to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in explaining free will. Many people have questioned why God would create such a tree to tempt Adam and Eve. They say it was just a matter of time before Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation.
But Pace explains that the tree shows God's love for Adam and Eve. Without the tree, Adam and Eve had no choice but to live as God wanted them to. The tree gave the pair a choice, to live and trust in God or to reject his love. Therefore the tree made God vulnerable to getting hurt. God had hoped, however, that Adam and Eve would use their free will to love Him and each other.
However, after the fall the use of free will became perverted and was used to harm one another. God could stop people from harming each other, Pace said, but that would require Him to take away someone's free will, turning the person essentially into a robot.
"Think about an oncologist dealing with a patient with a form of cancer," Pace said. "The oncologist gets to a point he can't do anything more. If it is a brain tumor you say just take the tumor out. Well it is not that easy. 'It's not that I (oncologist) don't want to but there are ramifications that you don't understand.'"
"If God removes our ability to harm each other, purges our soul of the sin in it, it would be a forced purge that would decimate our soul," the Virginia Tech pastor said. "He would have to destroy us to destroy the sin."
In order to destroy the sin but keep humans alive, God sent his son, Jesus, as an antidote, Pace noted. For those who accept that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins and rose again, God forgives the person's sins. But even with sending His son to die, God does not force humans to accept Jesus as the savior. God often seems powerless when He is all-powerful because He is limited in what he can do when confronted with our free will.
"This infection (sin) keeps reproducing in our soul," Pace said. "Without Jesus as the antidote, we are hopeless."
Pace, who was thrown into the national media spotlight after the Virginia Tech massacre, said he wrote the book Should We Fire God? for people who do not think the world – where there is so much evil and suffering – lines up with a God that is loving.
The Virginia pastor stressed, "We need to try to understand where God is coming from."
The book was released in April and includes a forward written by Rick Warren.